I looked at myself in the floor-length bathroom mirror. My straight, dark hair was pulled back in a low pony-tail. My green, dull eyes looked sunken from the dark circles that hung underneath. Unfortunately, my face illustrated the exhaustion I felt from working late for the past few nights. Not because I had to, but because I needed to keep myself busy.
I tucked a loose strand of hair behind my ear. I guess I looked ok. I mean, as ok as I could be. I sucked in a deep breath and pursed my lips into a straight line, adjusting my black blazer and lightly tugging down my dress suit. My make-up was the only color on my person and despite the fact that it concealed most of my exhaustion, it still couldn’t hide the sheer grief that weighed on my shoulders. I took a quick glance at my watch, another once-over in the mirror, and then steadily made my way out of the white, marbled bathroom, the click of my heels echoing through the empty stalls.
I pushed open the door to find Jeremy waiting by the stairs at the end of the expansive office floor. Naturally, every room was still occupied with people scouring over papers or emails inside. It was already five p.m., but no associate would be caught dead leaving before eight. Well, unless they were heading to a funeral, like me and Jeremy. The partners at Cravath & Covington LLP did work everyone here to the bone, but they also had a heart --or at least our HR staff did.
“Thank you again, Jeremy. I can’t tell you enough how much I appreciate you coming with me. I know you had a lot to do today.” I looked up at him as he threw me a comforting smile.
“Seriously, it’s nothing Emma. It’s the least I could do for you and your family.” He lightly placed a hand on my back as we walked down the stairs together, his warm, brown eyes offering sympathy. Jeremy was a close friend of mine. We had been since undergrad, and all the way through law school. Ever since finding out we both received offers to work at the same firm, we each carried a silent promise to watch others’ back in this cut-throat corporate world. In fact, he was the one who alerted HR to the death of my father and had us excused for the evening to attend his funeral. I couldn’t be more grateful; I had been so caught up in my grief, sharing the news and getting my dad’s last-minute affairs settled, that I would have been stuck at work tonight. “Honestly, I’m impressed you’re even here today at all,” he smirked.
Jeremy was tall and lean. These days he sported a runner’s build, even if it was swamped by the slick, black suit and polished dress shoes he wore. His short chestnut hair was slicked down and parted to the side. I still remembered him as the lanky, awkward kid that always seemed lost and out of his element. But he’d grown up, we both had.
“I’m here because we both basically live at the firm now,” I tried to joke back. “Besides, I’d rather be here than at home anyways,” I answered somberly. I did appreciate his attempt to keep things light.
“Yea, I know,” he sighed. Jeremy walked us towards the elevator and pressed the button to bring us down. We remained in a comfortable silence as the elevator arrived, and rode it all the way down to the building’s lobby.
The lobby was empty except for the secretary and security guards loitering by the front. Even the entrance of the firm was built with the same alabaster marble and floor to ceiling windows that compromised every floor of the building. Cravath & Covington was a top firm, and the decadent and modern building loudly emphasized it. I was proud to be able to call myself an associate at the firm. To be recruited meant you were one of the best; attended one of the best law schools, had the best grades, the best resume. But I wasn’t just proud of the accomplishment and the hard work that went into it. I was proud of my father’s joy and his comfort in knowing that his daughter had succeeded in life. I was proud that he would never have to worry for me, or take care of me --I could take of him now, and my sister. Well, at least I had for the past two years.
As we exited the building, we were immediately slammed by the harsh noises, and bustle of people scurrying this way and that. New York City was a jungle, that was for sure, but one I had grown comfortable in after growing up here. Jeremy and I waited by the door as he pulled out his phone and ordered an Uber. There was still light out, but it would start to wane soon. Summer was ending and although the heat and light remained oppressive in these polluted streets, I could feel the soft chill of fall with every passing breeze.
After the Uber pulled up, we silently climbed in. The driver quickly careened through the streets, heading from midtown towards Brooklyn. I looked out the window and gazed at the open storefronts, the towering buildings, the pigeons scattering and life, in general, continuing as usual.
“You’re dad was an amazing person, Emma.” I turned away from the window and glanced at Jeremy as he continued. “I know you’re going to get real busy once we arrive so, I just wanted to tell you this now.” He nervously clasped and unclasped his hands, finally settling on laying them flat on his lap. “When we first became friends, I had no way of knowing that I would gain not only a best friend but a family. At least, I considered it a family.” Jeremy smiled at me as he continued. “When your dad found out that my mom wasn’t able to celebrate my graduation, or my birthday, or anything really, he happily stepped in to fill the void. He never asked questions, or prodded or criticized. He just let me know I was always welcome.” The last few words became choked as he took in a deep breath to calm himself. “He was, an amazing person. I just...wanted to let you know.”
“Thank you.” I grabbed Jeremy’s hand and squeezed. “He considered you family too.” I hoped it was enough, but those words were all I could muster. For the rest of the trip we sat in silence, each of us preparing ourselves to face the reality of my father’s death. It was real, he was gone, and I would be at his funeral very soon.
My heart began to pound the closer we came to the service site. As my brain began to fog, I started to feel my body move on its own, desperate to get on with the day even though my mind had given up. When the car came to a stop, my arms opened the car door, my legs stood me up and my feet carried me closer to the crowd in black that had started to gather. My chest tightened and my throat constricted as my eyes began to blur from the tears that threatened to bubble over. This was too real. Too final. And then I felt a hand on my shoulder.
“Emma?” I spun around and was immediately enveloped in a tight, familiar embrace. We pulled apart and I looked down at my younger sister, her auburn, wild hair framing her face and falling on her shoulders. Tears were already streaming down her own green eyes that so closely resembled my own. We actually looked remarkably similar for sisters. Still, my 5′8" frame dwarfed her 5′5", and her wild hair brought life to her face where my hair laid perfectly still and flat against my head. Her features had always seemed softer than mine, but whether it was a difference set in our bones or highlighted by our distinct personalities I would never know.
“Colette! I’m so glad you’re here.” I was was unsure if she would make it, initially. She lived across the country in Chicago, and had just started a new job after her graduation last May. It was new for her and she struggled with the change, but I knew she loved what she did. My father wouldn’t have wanted her trek it all the way out if it put her through too much trouble, and I had let her know that. “You didn’t have to come all the way out here, you know. What’s happening with your work?”
My father had always picked on her about her choice to be a journalist, but he was not-so-secretly proud of her strong will, loud mouth and ability to fight for her passion. I much more secretly envied those traits, but was proud of her for it all the more. This fire-haired beauty was a force to be reckoned with.
“I'm covering a story in D.C., but managed to sneak in a layover in New York. I only have a few hours here before I need to make it back to the airport. But, come on Emma. You’re crazy if you actually think I wouldn’t come. This is dad.”
“Yea, this is dad,” I repeated, at a loss for more words. My sister’s presence took the edge off the anxiety that had started to build moments earlier, but it was still difficult to ignore the pangs that shook my chest. As Jeremy came up to her and gave her his condolences as well, I made my way into the crowd. The entire event felt like an out of body experience. I was there, I shook hands, I felt the tears on my face and exchanged words with close friends and family. The entire time my heart ached and every breath became more difficult than the last. I was going through the motions, but my mind hardly processed anything. I felt numb.
Before I knew it, the sun had set and the service had ended. As the room cleared out and individuals left one by one, I saw my roommate come up to me. I hadn’t even noticed she was here. Meg had known both me and Jeremy since law school, and although she had found employment with a smaller firm here in New York, we had both decided to live together after graduation for a few years.
“Are you ready to head home, Emma?” I nodded and followed her as she led the way to another Uber. “That, was an absolutely beautiful service. You did such a wonderful job organizing it, really.” She opened the car door for me as I slid in and smiled back at her in thanks. She quickly slid in after me. “When we get home, I’m going to make you some tea, we can order food. Actually, I can just order something on my phone right now so it arrives once we’re home and we don’t have to wait long. You want anything in particular? Thai, American, Italian?”
“I, um. I don’t know. I guess I’m just not that hungry.” My brain was slow to process through the options. Truthfully though, I had no appetite.
“You might not feel hungry, but you need to eat something. You know what, I’ll get us pad thai. You’ll just eat what you can, ok?”
“Alright, thank you.” I looked out the car window, the lights of the city twinkling as we crossed the Brooklyn bridge and made our way back into Manhatten. It was as if jewels had been scattered across the water. From this distance, the city looked like a metropolis and not just a dirty, grimy mesh of indescribable characters and garbage. Meg was clicking away at her phone, leaving me that brief moment to myself.
“Okay! Ordered. Should be there in twenty minutes, and we’ll be home in like, five.” Meg turned to look at me. Her long, brown hair fell in loose curls at her back. She had a petite nose and strong, defined brows that complimented her thick, dark lashes and full lips. From the pure confusion in her eyes, I could tell my silence was unnerving her and she felt obligated to fill the void, not sure how else to help me. “Right, and then you can just sit back and relax. We can watch a movie or something. Whatever you want.” As she spoke, I listened but didn’t have the energy to convey interest or thanks anymore. I continued to gaze out the window as a short silence entered the car. “So um...I was going to tell you tomorrow but now’s a good time too. I got you a gift-card for three to the spa around the corner from us. The one we’ve been meaning to go to, you know? I figured you, me and your sister could go this weekend.”
“My sister’s already left. She was just in for a few hours. But thank you, Meg. I really appreciate it.”
“Oh, well that’s a shame. Maybe we can rope in Jeremy or something,” she joked. I couldn’t stop the slight tug on my lips at the thought of Jeremy at a spa. The car finally pulled up in front of our apartment lobby, and we quickly got out and walked inside. Meg smiled at the lobby concierge as she hit the elevator button. She’d always had a friendly manner about her.
The apartment building was new and located right between both her office and mine. When the elevator dinged, we stepped inside and silently waited as it made its climb skyward. Our apartment was located on the 15th floor, with a spacious and large living area. The kitchen in the back contained a slick island counter and new, stainless-steel appliances. We were new graduates, only out of law school for two years or so with loans to pay back, and families to help support. But our salaries still let us live more than comfortably. It was something I was grateful for everyday.
Meg threw her heels to the side as soon as we entered and I slowly stepped out of mine, neatly placing them in the closet. She walked up to the kitchen and turned on the kettle to boil some water, and then turned around to face me as I sat on the stool opposite her.
“Okay, how are you feeling Emma? Really?” Genuine concerned laced Meg’s face.
I swung my feet on the stool as the tips of my toes grazed the wooden floor. “Lost, if I’m being honest.”
“What do you mean?”
“I just, I mean. Well, for my whole life, I’ve basically done everything for my dad and my sister. He pushed me to study hard, pushed me to go to law school, pushed me to work in corporate. And it’s not that I didn’t want to do any of those things, its just that I wanted to do it for him. To make him proud. And now that he’s gone its like, what’s the point?” I finally looked up from the floor and spun around to look at Meg, her lips pressed into a tight line obviously refraining from sharing her thoughts. I continued anyway. “My sister graduated and has a job now. So, she’s set. And now I’m here, stuck at this firm where I’ll just be working my life away, and I don’t even have a reason for it anymore. I’m not even sure if my reason was ever a good reason to begin with. What would I have been doing if I didn’t feel like I had all these obligations. I’m just now feeling like, I’m meant to do something else but I’m not quite sure what that is yet.” I paused, and took a deep breath. “I think, I’m going to quit Cravath & Covington.”
At that Meg couldn’t hold herself any longer. “Absolutely not! Emma, that’s such a rash decision. You’re going through a lot right now, and it makes sense that you feel...the way you feel. But you can’t quit! Think about it. How many people dream of having your job. The respect, the recognition, the pay? I mean, we would definitely not be living here right now if it wasn’t for the jobs we have. You can’t just toss that all away on a whim!”
Meg’s words stung, not because they were wrong but because they were right. I just didn’t want to accept it. I no longer saw any reason for me to work at the firm anymore, not when I felt like it wasn’t what I was supposed to do. It’s not like I knew what that other supposed ‘perfect job’ was, but it definitely wasn’t this. I had always known that deep inside. I could feel my eyes begin to blur, and my throat start to constrict. I quickly stood up. “I’m going for a run. I think maybe, I need to clear my head.”
“Now? Emma, it’s 10pm. And our dinner should be here any minute.” Meg look flustered as she watched me abruptly trek to my room to change. The kettle suddenly whistled and she spun around to take it off the stove. When I returned to the living room in my running outfit, she had sat herself down in the stool with a cup of tea in her hands.
“I’ll only be 30 minutes. And I’ll eat it when I get back,” I said as I grabbed the keys. I suddenly felt a pang of guilt, realizing how quickly I ended our conversation and announced my sudden departure. I turned back towards Meg. “I know I’m kind of all over the place right now. But, I really do appreciate everything you’re doing to be supportive, Meg. Truly.”
She watched as I slipped on my sneakers. “Of course,” she whispered. “Just promise me you won’t quit. At least not for another three months. If you still feel this way after all that time, then by all means. I just meant, you shouldn’t make that kind of decision so suddenly.”
I sighed, not wanting to revisit this so soon. “You’re right, I need to think it over. Hopefully this run gets me out of my funk. See you in a bit,” I yelled over my shoulder as I stepped out of the apartment.
The cool air of the evening was a pleasant jolt that revived my senses. Around me the lights and noises seemed to pulsate with life. A group of teenagers erupted in laughter to my right, an older gentleman scuffled along the sidewalk, groceries in hand, on my left. In the street, a biker zipped between the cars that were stopped at a red light, almost clipping a couple on the sidewalk who yelled after him in outrage. I sucked in a deep breath, and then ran. My feet pounded against the concrete and every person, every car, seemed to slip away as I weaved my way through the sidewalk. My lungs began to burn as I forced myself to move faster, faster with no direction or destination. The adrenaline lit my veins and buzzed through my head. I wasn’t thinking about my father anymore. I wasn’t thinking about my sister or work tomorrow or any of my responsibilities. All I had to do was run, anywhere. The feeling was freeing.
And then I found myself stopping short in front of Grand Central station. Sweat dripped from my forehead, my breathing hard and jagged. As though compelled by some invisible force, I walked inside. I was a fit person, but my muscles still strained from the effort I had forced them to exert. I looked up to see the electronic board displaying every train schedule. Crowds of people stood beside me, checking the time for their own trains. Others careened between us, rushing to catch their bus. I stood there standing, absent and yet more present in that moment than I had been for some time. And then it happened.
It started as a low rumble, barely audible in the crowded station. But the rumble grew to a thunderous screech. Almost at once everyone seemed to freeze mid-step, heads glancing upwards and backwards. What was happening? And then the ground began to shake.
Screams erupted as mothers grabbed their children’s arms to keep them upright. A young college student was knocked to the floor and began to crawl towards the exit. Men with briefcases looked panicked as they held their bags close to their chests and pinned their backs to the wall. And then the ceiling began to crack and stones came tumbling down, shattering on the tiled floor causing the people below to scatter. The unfortunate and slow were pinned under the heavy debris, laying immobile. Dust had begun to collect and haze my line of vision.
Within seconds, the scene had transformed from a typical commuter’s evening into a chaotic disaster zone. I barely had time to react as another large crack echoed throughout the building and a large, metal scaffold plummeted towards my head. In that moment I felt my body betray me. I was frozen, slowly watching the flying metal inch closer and closer. And then, I felt someone push me. My neck snapped to the side and my breath rushed out of my lungs from the force. My elbow and shoulder crunched as my body hit the debris-littered floor. The entire time my eyes stayed wide-open, in shock. Before I could catch my breath, a bright light flashed and a high-pitched trill began ringing in my ears. I was immediately blinded to the disaster that had begun to unfold, and I felt my mind drift away.
The next thing I knew was leaning back against a wall, still in Grand Central. I slowly blinked as the black spots in my vision disappeared and sight returned to me, noises slowly becoming comprehensible. That’s when I noticed every person in the station stand up, brush the dust off their clothes and casually, calmly, begin walking away. What?
It was as if nothing had happened! The walls remained cracked, the ceiling still had gaping holes and larges chunks of cement and metal remained on the floor. I began to blink my eyes more rapidly. Maybe it was the dust. Maybe I wasn’t seeing this right.
No, every single person was walking away. Unscathed. No panic, no worry and no acknowledgment of the rubble they were simply walking around. I didn’t understand. Why did no one care? Where were the police, the ambulance? My eyes darted back and forth, my neck still too sore to move. I could feel the panic begin to rise, my breathing becoming erratic and loud. Talk about a delayed reaction. And then I noticed a crowd of three peculiar individuals, the only ones not walking away but seemingly surveying the damage. All three wore a similar white shawl wrapped around their shoulders and neck, their shirts trailing behind like a tunic. Loose, white fatigues and beige combat boots were reminiscent of the military. Who could they be?
I continued to blink and then began to notice their eyes, all different shades of the sun. Beautiful and calming. And then a shimmer behind them. No, not a shimmer, wings. Large, powerful feathered wings framed the back of each man. The wings towered above each of their heads and lightly brushed the ground as they stood. They all looked like stone, a sculpture that had been brought to life, and their hair seemed as soft and feathered as their wings. Are these, angels? Am I...no, I refused to think it.
And then I noticed one of the angels quickly glance my way. His hair was a sleek silver, short and neatly combed to the side. His face was perfectly proportioned, chiseled with a strong jaw. Even through the dusty haze and debris, and my throbbing skull, I could tell: his gaze was striking.
I tried to call out, but my body began to seize from the pain that shot up my shoulder, and I finally noticed the ringing that was still echoing in my ear. I had to let them know I saw them. That I saw what’d happened. I began to cough violently as my lungs tried to expel the dust.
“Hey! You, there. Please.” I weakly beckoned to the three angels. The silver-haired man did a double-take as the two others suddenly hushed whatever conversation they were having and stared at my crumbled form on the floor. “Please,” I wheezed again.
The silver-haired man slowly approached me, crouching to my side as he looked me in the eyes. “You can see us?” he asked, his voice just audible over the buzzing in my ears.
I fought to let out a soft, ‘yes’ before my body began to shake again from another violent coughing fit. Then I passed out.